Student development classes train the brain to learn

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Student development Professor Suzanna Borawski tells students they will have a class party after a test Oct. 18, during her SDEV 0370, Foundations for College Learning, class in the student success center.  Photo by Riley Stephens

Student development Professor Suzanna Borawski tells students they will have a class party after a test Oct. 18, during her SDEV 0370, Foundations for College Learning, class in the student success center. Photo by Riley Stephens

By DAVID ESPINOZA

sac-ranger@alamo.edu 

Student development Professor Suzanna Borawski starts her class with a game of blackout bingo.

The idea is fairly straightforward: Find a student who’s done one of several activities listed on the game sheet and fill in their name on the space. This is done until the whole sheet is filled out. No one wins or loses, and the class begins a few minutes later. This may seem like a trivial activity for a college course, but this is a class that values interaction and helping others to achieve a mutual goal.

This is SDEV 0370, Foundations for College Learning. This is one of three courses offered by student development to give students skills to be successful in completing a degree plan.

The others are SDEV 0170, College Success, and SDEV 0171, Strategies for Success. All new Alamo College students are put into either SDEV 0370 or SDEV 0170, depending on their Accuplacer scores. Students who need remedial courses are put into SDEV 0370, a 16-week course. If the student’s SAT scores are higher, those scores will replace the Accuplacer. The rest of the students are put into the eight-week SDEV 0170. This course previously was a two-day eight-hour orientation course.

Students with a GPA below 2.0 for two or more semesters are required to sign up for SDEV 0171. Transfer students with at least 15 credit hours do not have to take any of these courses.

The student success center, which houses student development courses, estimates a total of 3,300 students are enrolled in student development courses. Borawski starts her lecture discussing the human brain and how it works. Humans are born with 100 billion neurons in the brain, Borawski said.

As the five senses take in the world around people, synapses, or branches called dendrites branch out connecting neurons to each other, forming a network.

By exercising the brain through repetition, the neural network is strengthened. Eventually, previous problems such as difficult math problems become easier to solve because the neural network has been trained to deal with them.

These “branches,” however, must constantly be worked through repetition or the network will weaken over time.

Borawski also emphasized the importance of prior knowledge to be used as a basis for the neural network to build on a strong prior knowledge of math becomes the building blocks of more advanced courses.

The second is quality of processing or how students study material, and the third is quantity of processing or how frequently students work the brain over the same material.

The brain naturally retains what is most important to its owner so students need to believe what they are learning is important. Cramming information is not advised because it uses the working memory instead of long-term memory. Working memory is limited when compared to long term. Exams normally contain too much material for the working memory to handle.

Self-esteem also plays a crucial role in studying. Work in a particular subject becomes easier after small successes.

Religious studies freshman Frank Mangeniello, a student in SDEV 0370, has felt the effects of the course in just a few short weeks. “I’m putting together ways of studying, repeating problems over and over. In the past I would cram my studies. The class is teaching me what works best for me. It’s more than just learning math. You feel the support,” he said.

Students looking for more information, can visit the student success center or call 210-486-0370.

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